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Muslim cyclone survivors take shelter in Mozambique church

Published: May 01, 2019 16:00:14 | Updated: May 10, 2019 20:54:11


Next to a marble pulpit inside a Catholic church, a young Muslim girl chases around with other children.

The church has become a home for her and nearly 1,000 others from different faiths as they wait out the aftermath of Mozambique's latest devastating cyclone, reports AP.

Situated in the heart of this predominantly Muslim but diverse city ravaged by Cyclone Kenneth, the Maria Auxiliadora parish houses those displaced by the storm in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique's northernmost province.

"We don't ask about people's religions, human life is all we value," Father Ricardo Filipe Rosa Marques, the 41-year-old priest in charge, told The Associated Press.

The government has said 41 people have died after the cyclone made landfall on Thursday, and the humanitarian situation in Pemba and other areas is dire.

This is the first time two cyclones have struck the country in a single season, and Kenneth was the first cyclone recorded so far north in Mozambique in the era of satellite imaging.

Shelter is a top priority for most cyclone survivors and this is what the church is providing, promoting itself as a safe space even before the storm.

In a region where little-known Islamic militants have reportedly killed dozens of people in recent months, a certain amount of tension might be expected. But for some, what matters most is shelter.

"I had never been in a church before ... but as long as I am safe I don't mind," said Aamilah Felciano, who is Muslim. "It doesn't mean I have abandoned my faith, I am just saving my life."

The church has suspended mass and other routine programs. There is no space or time for such activities, the priest said.

"There can be no better mass than giving people shelter and hope. That is the church's mission," he said.

Children climb over the pulpit and the priest's chair, playing. In one corner a woman breastfeeds her baby. Church pews have been turned into washing lines. Outside, shielded from the pounding rains, girls and boys take turns stirring huge pots of rice and soup.

As nightfall approaches, people prepare reed mats or pieces of cloth. Some will sleep on the bare floor. Men sleep on the hall's balcony.

More than 900 displaced people are sheltering here, while about 200 others are staying at church centres elsewhere in the city, according to Joao Paulo, an official with Caritas, a Catholic relief agency.

Some people are still arriving. But getting people to leave their homes was not easy at first.

"The difficulty was that a lot of people here are Muslims, some said they cannot stay in a Catholic church," said the priest, Rosa Marques, adding: "Some refused and preferred to stay at their homes. My heart broke because these people chose to face death over safety."

But there are few religious tensions among city residents, he said, and many of the people arriving at the church with food, medicine and other aid are Muslims. "It is not as difficult as in other areas," he said.

As he spoke, the Muslim call to prayer blared from speakers at one of the numerous mosques nearby, and people left the church to pray.

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